How do you Photograph a Photographer?

Well, you take away her camera for a start!

When my friend Matt Ross (Matt Ross Photography) offered to take my headshots for my website, I was more than a little apprehensive. How many photographers actually like being photographed? It takes a lot of nerve to hand over the creative controls to someone else! But as I thought more about it, I realised that my clients put themselves in my hands and trust me to capture them in the way they'd like to be portrayed, so to help me improve as a photographer, I really need to experience being the other side of the lens for once!

After an initial phone consultation about what we both wanted to achieve for the shoot, we decided Colley Hill would be the ideal location. Lots of natural light, open space and an inspiring view. This consultation helped Matt draw up his shoot plan, something we find key with portrait shoots. It focusses us on understanding what our clients want to achieve and helps ensure we capture them in the way they will treasure forever.

On the morning of the shoot, I had major wardrobe dilemmas. As a photographer, I dress to blend in with the background, comfort being one of my highest priorities. But I always recommend to my clients that they think carefully about what they will be wearing, as you not only want to look your best, but this will give you confidence too. So outfit chosen and hair and makeup done, we headed up to a rather windy and chilly Colley Hill.

It felt very strange to me to be the shoot subject, and it became quite apparent that I myself was unsure how to pose. I find it quite easy to direct clients, but this is the first time i’ve ever been directed myself. Thankfully Matt was very patient, especially with my inability to tell my left from my right! Most of the poses felt comfortable, but a couple a little uncomfortable, and I think it goes to show to be a good photographer you need to help the client feel that they can admit this to you, rather than just politely putting up with it until the shot has been taken. However, as those shots can also be spotted as awkward by the photographer straight away, Matt immediately suggested we changed pose. It was a great lesson in feeling for myself what works and is most comfortable, plus I learnt crossing one’s legs in skinny jeans is a feat not to be attempted again!

With the first few poses in the bag, we headed up to the Inglis Memorial. This is a stunning monument, with intricate mosaic ceiling portraying star constellations in the night sky, but today we used the graffiti strewn pillars as props. It felt pretty reassuring to lean against them (especially as being out in the open was really pretty cold and had started to turn my nose red!) but this gave Matt a new problem to solve with lighting. Luckily his knowledge of remote flash with Magmod flash modifier came in very handy, so as to correctly expose my face given the bright sky backdrop.

As we were heading back towards the car park, we decided to do a quick recce of the gorgeous bluebells. I love to try and get a good depth of field when I shoot portraits with bright backdrops, and Matt wanted to give some shots with movement a go, so after some walking and some spinning around like a child in a playground, we called it a wrap.

A week or so after the shoot, Matt called me in for the photo reveal. I have to say, I was very, very impressed. It was quite emotional too, but any worries I had had about allowing myself to be photographed by Matt were completely unfounded. Matt had been very tactful in only choosing photographs that made me look my best, rather than his personal preference, and had thankfully removed any signs of my cold red nose. For the first time I was allowed to put my photographer hat back on as we went through the images once more, and we identified the two poses where I didn’t feel the most comfortable pretty quickly. You could also see how those images that weren’t posed, or showed my honest reaction to something, shone above the others.

So as a client of Matt Ross Photography, I felt that Matt really took his time to understood what I was hoping to gain from the shoot, and the images really talk for themselves. The whole portrait experience was brilliantly positive and a real confidence booster, which to be fair for us mums of young children, is something that is pretty rare.

As a Photographer myself, this shoot has taught me to look for the small clues that clients give out, which help direct me to expand a pose or bring out an expression that shows the subject in a rare way, a glimpse into their soul perhaps. That although a shoot plan is important, so is spontaneity. That when client feels comfortable, they shine from within, which takes the images to a whole new level. And if shooting on Colley Hill, don’t forget your coat!

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Rachel Thornhill ABIPP ASWPP LMPA  - Beautiful story-telling photography and stunning wall art for fun loving people, Rachel is an award-winning professional portrait Photographer based in Lower Kingswood / Tadworth, Surrey, UK.    Tel: +44 (0)1737 244745     

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